Butler on Redemption Road

Maryland is in search of a running back after Johnathan Thomas verbaled to Penn State, and they may have found one in a familiar spot.

Two years ago, running back Phillip Butler was setting school rushing records at North Hagerstown High (Hagerstown, Md.), using his sub-4.4 40-yard dash speed and ankle-breaking moves to shoot through, over and around defenses.

But after a stellar junior season that saw him eclipse 2,000 total yards, Butler, who clearly had Division I talent, succumbed to academic and legal issues. The Herald Mail reported that Butler was charged with armed robbery in Aug. 2012, and in March 2013 was placed under the Department of Juvenile Services. Butler did not play the 2012 season, and instead he said he spent his time taking night classes and trying to earn enough high school credits to graduate.

"I got most of [the credits], and I tried to come back [to North Hagerstown] to retake an English class and another class," said Butler, who also had a daughter around this time. "But it didn't work out."

Butler ended up having to retake his senior year, though it wouldn't be at North Hagerstown. Instead, he enrolled at Linganore High (Frederick, Md.), where his younger brother, Donte, is a running back for the Lancers' football team.

Eventually, Phillip Butler had a chance to don the pads as well -- and he picked up right where he left off in 2011. Through seven games, including playoffs, Butler has over 800 yards, 12 touchdowns and is averaging 12 yards per carry. He was named the Frederick News-Post Player of the Week after a 328-yard, five-touchdown effort in a 51-13 postseason victory.

"It was a great opportunity and I'm just happy to be along for the ride," Butler said. "I'm just trying to contribute as much as I can."

And now he and the rest of the Lancers will be heading to M&T Bank Stadium Dec. 5 for the class 3A state championship game.

"It's definitely exciting for me; I've never been in that stadium before," Butler said. "I just got here [in October] and now I'm going to be playing for a state championship, so that's really exciting."

Along the way, Butler caught the eye of a number of college recruiters, namely the University of Maryland. The Terps had already secured former Lancers running back Joe Riddle a couple years ago and just recently received a verbal commitment from junior lineman E.J. Donahue. Suffice it to say, Maryland and assistant Greg Gattuso are quite familiar with coach Rick Conner's program.

"Maryland has been talking to me the most. They're really interested. They're waiting to see how I do on my SATs before the consider offering, but if that all works out the offer should be there," Butler said. "Coach Gattuso said he talked to my coach about me and he likes how I'm a hard-working kid, how I can run and what kind of a back I am. He thinks I can bring a lot to the table. He's coming to see me [Dec. 3.]"

Butler went on to say that it was Donahue who tipped off the Maryland coaches.

"EJ was telling them to offer me," Butler said, chuckling. "He told them all about me. [Donahue] always says great things about Maryland and how he loves it there."

Butler had a chance to verify that when he visited College Park, Md., when the Terps took on Syracuse, a game that didn't end particularly well for Maryland. But that didn't seem to bother the Linganore back, who thoroughly enjoyed his stay.

"The campus, the people, everybody was nice. It was great to be there," Butler said. "I know they lost, but that didn't really mean much. I liked everybody on the team and just being around them all. Honestly, the people, the environment and the coaching staff were all great there."

The fact that College Park is less than an hour from his home makes it appealing as well.

"I have a daughter, so I want to stay close by," Butler said. "I want to be around my family, and my daughter is only 16 months."

If Maryland -- which is looking for a running back after Johnathan Thomas decommitted and verbaled to Penn State -- were to offer, Butler said he'd have to think it over but that the Terps would be in a good position for his services. That said, there are a few other schools looking at him, including West Virginia.

"My coach told me West Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, Old Dominion and a few others contacted him about me," Butler said. "I'm going to be checking out West Virginia soon. They've been in touch so I want to see what they're about."

First thing's first, though. He's got a state championship game on Thursday night.

"To win a state championship? That would mean so much," Butler said. "I can't describe how that would feel."

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